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by Tom Kenny


There were a number of aspects to the market in Woodquay in the nineteenth and early twentieth century – there was a crane for weighing potatoes at the end of the park (near the toll booth) and it was there many of the farmers who carried their wares downriver used to gather to sell. Other groups would congregate here to sell scallops for thatching houses, ‘flexible sticks’ cut from hazel trees. These were very much in demand in the city area as so many houses were thatched in those days including in Woodquay. Also in that area you would find basket makers who would weave creels, ciseáins, skibs and baskets of many shapes and sizes for sale to the public.

The main sections of the market took place along the footpaths on both sides of Woodquay. Our main photograph (courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington) was taken in 1902 roughly from where McSwiggans is today.

The derelict site you can see on the right extended to the corner of Eyre Street. It was later built on and became Creavin’s Boot Shop. The building next to this site on Woodquay was Miss Paisley’s boarding house and beside that was O’Halloran’s, Mr. O’Halloran was a foreman in McDonough’s. Next to that was Dooley’s shop and yard – notice the elegant gaslight outside.  Dooleys had a mineral water company here, a natural well on the premises. They also made pikes and pitchforks. Beyond that was Murphy’s pub, then Tim Lally’s pub and then Glynn’s house.

Our second image shows the Eyre Street end of the derelict site on the corner and this was the location of the egg and butter section of the market in Woodquay. In the distance on the left you can see the entrance to Abbey Lane. Some of the buildings along that side of Woodquay were Johnny Lee’s pub and boot shop, Rabbitte’s Bakery, Hession’s, Michael John Noone’s, Miss Dooley’s shop, Forde’s, Kavanagh’s, Fitzpatrick’s, Fahy’s, Sarsfield’s grocery shop, James Forde’s pub and Greaney’s pub.     


 A contemporary report described the scene as follows – “The women were dressed in the characteristic red flannel petticoat of the country, short as regards length, but allowing the whole of a pair of strong-nailed boots to be visible. Their heads were covered with black flannel cloaks and fastened by a rosette. The cloak had a very odd appearance from behind because it covered a basket that was slung from their shoulder. The baskets were about fourteen inches in length, nine or ten in width and about ten in depth. This was how some of them brought their goods to market, which included socks, homespun flannels etc.

Many of the men were dressed in frieze tail-coats, knee breeches, stockings and brogues, and the headpiece being an authentic stove-pipe hat. The hats never looked new. The shafts of the carts were painted bright red and the body bright blue. The animal pulling the cart was generally an ass or an un-groomed pony. The harness was generally made up of rope supplemented with old bits of leather here and there”.

It must have been a wonderfully lively and colourful scene allied to all the business of buying, selling and haggling. By the 1960s, the Woodquay market was in decline and by the 1980s, there were only a handful of traders making a weekly appearance there and so another local tradition gradually faded away.

Happily much of this tradition has been captured in a new book just published by William Henry. Entitled “Woodquay, An Ancient Heritage”, it is profusely illustrated and contains information on just about every aspect of life in that area in the last century. It is a must for every Galwegian’s library and especially for those living abroad. Highly recommended. Available at 30 euro in good bookshops.

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